The year 2012 was a very active fire year in Colorado. During the month of June, it felt as if the entire state was burning. As a human, it is easy to see nothing but devastation and disruption from these fires. As animals living in permanent homes, some people see only the threats of wild fire. But it is also important to understand that while fire can be tragic, it is a natural cycle.
However, this issue of Learning on the Land is focused on the wildfires of 2012 and the POSITIVE effects that are already appearing. Many of these fires burned on public lands managed by the San Juan National Forest and the BLM Tres Rios Office – the very lands that SJMA seeks to help protect through education. Keep in mind as you read this that these areas still smell like smoke and ash – as if the flames were extinguished only yesterday.
Little Sand Burn
Lightning struck the remote Piedra Area of the San Juan National Forest around May 13th to ignite what would become the Little Sand Fire. Because of the isolation of the area and its distance from human habitations, the fire was allowed to burn naturally for some time. The fire was finally contained at the end of July. It covered more than 25,000 acres (39 square miles).
Many residents of Pagosa Springs describe the burn as “a very healthy fire”. The regeneration of plants in parts of the burn area is startlingly green and lush. Along the southern end of the Lower Weminuche trail, it is tough to find charred, black soil. It appears that this fire burned trees selectively. This opened the canopy enough to let in more sunlight, triggering an explosion of new undergrowth. In some spots, live aspens and firs sit within feet of charred ponderosa pines. The aspens will now have more room to spread their roots. As in other areas, woodpeckers peck happily at the brurned trees. It is already tough to tell that there was a fire here, save for the charred logs and the lingering smell of smoke and ash.
This burn area is very remote. For information on where to view it, contact the Pagosa Ranger District at 970-264-2269.
Little Sand Creek Fire
The following accounts and views are from within the Piedra Valley “ground zero” as viewed from the owners and employees of Crazy Horse Outfitter and Guides.
|Date of Origin||Sunday May 13th, 2012 approx. 04:00 PM|
|Location||13 miles NW of Pagosa Springs|
On May 13th clouds gathered over the Piedra Valley, thunder could be heard with numerous flashes of lightening in the area. A few miles southwest of the Sportsmen’s Campground and Mountain Cabins and home to Crazy Horse Outfitter (CHO) an event was born. Lightening struck and ignited a tree in the lower end of Little Sand Creek drainage. The smoke plume could be seen from Piedra Road at Dead Man’s Curve.
As the fire grew it was determined that since the ignition was inside an area to receive a prescribed burn that it would be allowed to do its job. That job was clean up the forest floor of dead and fallen trees and unhealthy habitat which has become so thick that large mammal’s could not pass through the forest to forage for food.
Mother Nature uses fire to clean her forest and promote healthy trees and vegetation. In the past, fire suppression was used which in turn created an abundance of heavy fire fuels in our forests. Over time this created an un-healthy forest and took away prime habitat for such big game animals as deer and elk.